Bank of Namibia and Standard Bank are differing over the impact of the recent repo rate hike on capital outflows.
BoN expects the higher rates to Higher interest rates to curb capital outflows, Standard Bank on the other hand says the rate hikes are less likely to stop capital outflow to South Africa or let alone reverse it back to Namibia because the fundamental cause of capital outflow to South Africa goes beyond interest rate differential between the two countries.
Therefore, said Standard Bank’s Manager of Economic and Market Research Mally Likukela, the usage of tighter Monetary Policy to align interest rates with the hope of curbing capital outflow will only result into higher cost of borrowing and increased possibility of debt defaulting in Namibia.
“Although conventional wisdom suggests that higher interest rates can stem capital flight, very often higher interest rates have only managed to increase the probability of debt default and led to anti-orthodox effects particularly when the two options are not perfect substitutes,” said Likukela.
Likukela said: “Before we explore some of the factors that contribute to a biased or skewed capital outflow to South Africa, let us first describe what capital outflow actually is.”
Outflowing capital can be caused by any number of economic or political reasons but can also originate from instability in either sphere, said the economist.
“Regardless of the cause, capital outflowing is generally perceived as always undesirable and many countries create laws to restrict the movement of capital out of the nations’ borders. If they are assumed to be caused by interest rate differentials, monetary authorities usually align their interest rate with the anchor country.”
Below is a part of Likukela’s full reaction to last week’s rate hike:
CAUSES OF CAPITAL OUTFLOW TO SOUTH AFRICA
Namibia is a neighbour to one of the world’s most developed and sophisticated financial market by size and quality. At 31 December 2014 the total market capitalisation of the Namibian Stock Exchange (NSX) was only N$ 1.680 billion compared to Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE), one of the world’s 20 largest exchanges by its market capitalisation of just over U$1 billion and the largest exchange in Africa. The risk and perceptions are quite different – making the two markets not perfect substitutes – and in favour of South Africa. The significance of South Africa’s capital markets in the economy and the region is substantial compared to Namibia’s market. The market capitalisation of the JSE is 294 per cent of the size of the country’s US$324bn gross domestic product, according to data from the World Federation of Exchanges, Thomson Reuters Datastream and the IMF. The currency, bond and derivatives markets are all among the world’s twenty largest by turnover. Thus regardless of the difference in level of interest rate, South Africa will always be regarded as a better investment option for investors by virtue of its size and stage of development.
The historic and political origin of Namibia, its institutions and policies continue to influence the direction of capital flows. Given that Namibia enjoys a very deep intimate relationship with its larger-than-life neighbouring South Africa, the economy of Namibia is closely connected to South Africa through both institutional relationships (Southern African Customs Union, for example) and a number of privately owned South African companies. The South African rand is a legal currency within Namibia and the currencies are traded on par locally. Namibia continues to depend on South Africa as a major source of imports (the import bill from South Africa rose by 19.8 percent to account for N$62 billion in 2015). South Africa remains the second largest export destination accounting for about 19.5 percent of all exports (second only to Botswana) and totalled about N$11.4 Billion.
Namibia is a member of the Common Monetary Area (CMA) thus a free flow of capital between the member countries; however, because South Africa has more developed financial markets, capital flows in the Common Market are skewed to that market and any efforts weather fiscal, monetary or otherwise to limit the outflow of capital to South Africa remains futile and will yield no intended results. In fact the main objective of free capital mobility is to foster the integration of member countries’ financial markets towards each other – and the Rand (South Africa) being the anchor currency it draws all capital towards itself.
Capital outflow from Namibia to South Africa will persist due to the high savings of institutional investors (mainly insurance companies and pension funds) that seeks to diversify. Diversification is a technique that reduces risk by allocating investments among various financial instruments, industries and other categories. It aims to maximize return by investing in different areas that would each react differently to the same event. Most investment professionals agree that, although it does not guarantee against loss, diversification is the most important component of reaching long-range financial goals while minimizing risk.
Domestic pension fund, medical and insurance assets have grown noticeably over the past years. As a result of this growth, these institutions had to operate and comply with certain investment prudential guidelines. In an attempt to comply with these investment mandates, these institutional investors have designed an asset allocation strategy that enhances high returns with minimal risk. As part of their diversification strategy, these institutions have been extending their asset class holding beyond the border of Namibia, by holding shares on the South African Stock Exchange. One can safely conclude that the main reason for outflow is an attempt by these institutions to diversify their portfolio risks and increase returns for savers.